Denver — The postponement of the Tokyo Games has catapulted the sports organizations that make up the backbone of the U.S. Olympic team into crisis.
At least one has already started layoffs and others are desperate to stay solvent. Some are expecting a major downturn in membership dues, while others are reeling from event cancellations totaling more than 8,000 across all sports.
A database analyzed by The Associated Press shows combined projected losses of more than $121 million in revenue between February and June for 43 of the 50 national governing bodies that responded to a survey from the NGB Council in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
As much or more as the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which serves as an umbrella regulator of the country’s Olympic sports, it’s the NGBs that provide funding and other support for athletes to pursue their dreams at the Olympic and other elite levels. About 80% of the typical NGB’s budget goes toward supporting athletes.
Not including the U.S. Tennis Association — an outlier because of the massive revenue it generates from the U.S. Open — the NGBs have a combined annual revenue of about $685 million. By comparison, the NFL and NBA each reportedly brought in about $8 billion during its latest completed season. Half the NGBs are little more than ma-and-pop operations, working with small staffs and on revenue not more than $5 million a year.
The USOPC, which sent cash grants to the individual NGBs to the tune of around $65 million in 2018, is also in uncharted territory. The postponement of the Olympics forces the federation to make up for a shortfall nearing $200 million without the NBC payout that comes during Olympic years.
The USOPC broke with recent practice by not taking out insurance against that possible loss, instead deciding to self-insure. Some of the shortfall is expected to come from an endowment fund created out of a surplus from the 1984 LA Olympics.
The USOPC says the losses across American sports could range from $600 million to $800 million. A good portion of these losses can be recouped if the games go forward, as expected, in 2021. But staying financially healthy until that time is not a given for some of the more vulnerable NGBs.
“I haven’t heard anyone say their NGB itself was going to go out of business,” said Max Cobb, the president of U.S. Biathlon, who doubles as leader of the USOPC’s NGB council. “But there’s very little buffer to absorb any revenue loss for an NGB. They all run on a very tight revenue and expense model, and very few have much in the way of savings.”
Already, USA Cycling, a mid-sized NGB with an approximate annual revenue of $15 million, laid off eight of its 70-person staff. And USA Rugby, which existed on about $14 million in revenue through 2017, was already teetering and could be nearing closer to bankruptcy with the added uncertainty the Olympic postponement has brought.
Many NGBs, such as cycling, are event driven — reliant on cash brought when people sign up for local and national competitions that they sanction. Others, such as USA Swimming, get their lion’s share of funding from membership dues, which are taking a hit as facilities around the nation close on the order of state and local governments.
“We, as an NGB, will feel it next fall when memberships start rolling in. That shortfall could have a profound effect,” said USA Swimming’s Tim Hinchey. “We can overcome a lot of these things, I think, if all comes back to normal. But we have to wait and see like everyone else.”
The only event that makes money for swimming is its Olympic trials, which are also a significant revenue source for track, gymnastics and other sports that send large teams. All have been postponed, to be rescheduled when the IOC sets a new date for the Olympics in 2021.
The USOPC recently sent a letter to Congress asking for $200 million to be included in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed through the House of Representatives on Friday. The money, it said, was to be used to support about 2,500 athletes and to help NGBs, which have a total of about 4,500 full-time employees.
That request wasn’t granted — the federal government has a long history of not providing financial support to the Olympics — though Cobb said he was encouraged that not-for-profit businesses such as the NGBs are allowed to apply for loans as part of the stimulus package’s $349 billion “Paycheck Protection Program.” Hinchey said he’ll direct some struggling swim clubs to also seek relief from the loan program.
What’s clear to Cobb is that without some help, more layoffs could be imminent at some NGBs, while others will suffer in ways that the broad public might not recognize right away. Without as much revenue to support a wider swath of coaching and training programs, to say nothing of equipment and state-of-the-art training facilities, some sports’ pipelines might suffer.
“The athletes receiving the support right now have earned that by being the best in the country,” Cobb said. “But it’s that next generation of athletes, and all the NGBs rely on that next generation, that’s the group that’s the most impacted.”
FILE – In this Feb. 19, 2020, file photo, Minnesota Wild’s Alex Galchenyuk, left, scores against Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, of Sweden, during the shootout in an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Nick Foligno watches Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefings and appreciates the value of the information.
It is part of the reason the Columbus captain supports NHL players undergoing daily testing if the season resumes.
“Testing is a must because it’s the only way you’re going to know and feel confident every time you step on the ice that everyone is in the same boat as you and you can play the game to the best of your ability,” Foligno said.
The first major North American professional sports league to announce a format for its potential return to competition also has a comprehensive COVID-19 testing strategy. There are screening protocols in place for voluntary workouts and training camp in the hands of individual teams. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also said the NHL plans to test all players every day when games start happening.
“We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test,” Daly said. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Each test costs approximately $125, the league says, and Commissioner Gary Bettman estimated 25,000-35,000 will be needed to get through the playoffs — a price tag, he concedes, of “millions of dollars.” But athletes have plenty of concerns about risking their health to get back to work, and regular testing is something players insisted on.
“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said. “If that turns out to be daily, and that’s available, that’s OK. That would be good. If it turns out that that’s not quite what we need and we can get by with a little less, that’s OK.”
Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security isn’t quite sure how often athletes should be tested to ensure they are virus-free. He said testing in German soccer will help other leagues determine the right frequency, which also depends on the type of quarantine and exposure risks players will have.
“We do know that people that have increased contact with each other are going to have more opportunity to spread the virus, and hockey is one of the sports where individuals do have a lot of contact with each other,” Adalja said. “I would say that they’re going to have to be more aggressive than other leagues in terms of testing.”
While players vary on their general concern about contracting the virus by resuming the season, many seem to be on board with frequent testing.
“Having it each and every day begins to limit the potential of getting the virus,” Edmonton player representative Darnell Nurse said. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what the professionals who are in this field and tackle these challenges each and every day, if that’s what they believe is the best option, then that’s the way you have to go.”
Teammate Connor McDavid and Toronto captain John Tavares, who are members of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, deferred to experts on how often players should be tested. McDavid added, “I think you have to get tested in a time like this, and you want to get tested as frequently as you can to catch it right away.”
Daly said one person testing positive for the coronavirus would not necessarily mean another pause for the NHL. Leaguewide testing done daily would allow the isolation of an infected player, coach or staff member before the start of an outbreak.
“If one guy tests positive, I see it as unlikely that other guys don’t test positive, but in assessing everybody I have to believe that they’ll probably find it,” Montreal player rep Paul Byron said. “What would happen if half your team or four or five or six guys test positive at one time?”
League and team officials have stressed they would only use thousands of tests if that number does not endanger the supply for the general public, a concern Adalja broached for all sports. Bettman said medical experts told the NHL that by the time games could resume this summer, 25,000-30,000 would be “a relatively insignificant number.”
Adalja said a league partnering with a national chain for testing could keep it from interfering with the public supply, though it is difficult to predict what availability will be like in late summer. He also said the cost and availability depends on whether the NHL would use more expensive but more reliable PCR tests — the nose swabs — or rapid antigen tests that can have less sensitivity.
Protocols for voluntary workouts and training camps require PCR testing where available, and Daly said the NHL continues to study the potential use of antigen testing.
Part of the decision on which cities host games is the amount of COVID-19 present in the community. Bettman hopes the combination of going to a place with less of it, testing frequently and putting players in a quarantine “bubble” of sorts means it’s less likely for anyone to contract it.
The players putting faith in the league to keep them healthy hope that turns out to be correct.
“Staying on top of everyone is going to be a good challenge for our training staff, and the onus on the players in making sure everyone’s safe,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be some interesting hurdles but hopefully if we get back on the ice, I’m sure the guys will find a way to jump through them.”
As the calendar flips to June, Major League Baseball is entering its most important week since the 1994-95 work stoppage. MLB and the MLB Players Association are currently — and very publicly — working through many issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown. This week will play a major role in shaping the 2020 season.
MLB’s restart proposal calls for an 82-game season starting in early July. That would necessitate launching an abbreviated three-week spring training in mid-June. There is no hard deadline for MLB and the MLBPA to come to an agreement. Given the proposed timeline though, there is a soft deadline to wrap things up, and it’s this week. Any later risks delaying the season further.
To be clear, MLB and the MLBPA will delay the start of the season if necessary. If they can’t come to an agreement until, say, late June, and the regular season can’t begin until Aug. 1, so be it. They’ll start on Aug. 1 because some baseball is better than no baseball. That is something both sides want to avoid thought. There is a real urgency to reach an agreement soon.
There are countless issues that must be resolved before MLB and the MLBPA have an agreement for the 2020 season. Some are more important than others but they all have to be resolved before baseball can return. The can can’t be kicked down the road much further. Here are six lingering issues as the two sides enter this very important week.
1. Economic agreement
The owners want the players to cover their losses. That’s the simplest way to explain it. Owning an MLB franchise tends to be very lucrative, but profit is never guaranteed when you own a business, and now that the owners are facing a loss, they want their employees to pay for it. The owners didn’t share the profits when revenues climbed north of $10 billion — the average salary has been stagnant for five years — but they want to share the losses. That is baseball’s current economic dispute in a nutshell.
“After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions. We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.”
MLB and the MLBPA agreed to prorated salaries in March and that agreement calls for the two sides to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators.” The owners want the players to take another pay cut because the stands will be empty. The union can argue the owners are not negotiating in good faith because they’ve only partially responded to requests for documentation showing further salary reductions are necessary.
Reports indicate the MLBPA will counter the sliding scale proposal by seeking more regular season games (likely 110 rather than 82) with prorated salaries (per the March agreement). That same March agreement gives commissioner Rob Manfred the unilateral ability to schedule the season. Eugene Freedman, a labor lawyer and Baseball Prospectus contributor, says the MLBPA’s counter-proposal challenges Manfred’s unilateral ability to start the season. “The Union has found a very strong way of proving its point that the March agreement is in full force and effect and should not be reopened,” Freedman writes. We’re at a stalemate now.
The MLBPA could seek future concessions (higher minimum salary, revamped arbitration process, etc.) in exchange for accepting further salary reductions now, though that seems impossible. Rewriting the sport’s economic structure would take weeks (months, more likely) of negotiations. This is not something the two sides could hammer out on an afternoon Zoom call, you know?
It is important to note these are not two friends haggling over who pays for lunch. There are labor laws in effect here, and should the MLBPA even discuss a new salary structure with MLB, the March agreement becomes unenforceable. Despite the pandemic and crashing economy, the salary dispute will continue to play out publicly, because that’s what these two parties do. They fight publicly.
If there is going to be a 2020 season, one side will have to cave. Either the owners will accept losses (losses they are better able to make up in the future than players, who tend to have short careers) or the players will accept further salary reductions. This dispute over player salaries is the single biggest issue right now. This will determine whether there is baseball in 2020.
The safety plan is very thorough — it advises, for example, that each pitcher have his own personal rosin bag to avoid spreading COVID-19 — and that shows how seriously MLB is taking safety. It also shows how fine a needle MLB and the MLBPA are trying to thread. The plan requires the buy-in and cooperation of thousands, and when that many people are involved, vulnerabilities exist.
Testing is, obviously, at the core of the safety plan. The plan calls for multiple temperature checks per day and multiple COVID-19 tests per week. MLB will have to acquire those tests without taking resources away from the public, because there’s no way the league can ethically test players thousands of times if there aren’t enough tests for health care workers and citizens.
Players have already raised concerns about proposed limitations on indoor batting cages, steam rooms and ice baths, and other facilities at the ballpark. Those are not amenities. They are tools to optimize performance and health. I don’t think either side would blow up a season over hot tub access or something silly like that. This is something they have to work through though.
The safety plan figures to include a provision allowing personnel to opt out of the season during the pandemic. Kenley Jansen has had heart surgery. Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are cancer survivors. Adam Duvall is one of several players with Type 1 diabetes. There are personnel (and family members) with conditions that put them at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
Personal safety is paramount and allowing players (and coaches, umpires, and other personnel) to opt out of the season will require an agreement on service time and salary. That’s an economic question more than it is a safety question. Resolving that, acquiring tests, and agreeing on access to ballpark facilities is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to safety.
Ultimately, the money will determine whether we get a baseball season in 2020. If MLB and the MLBPA can work through that, the safety plan will then determine whether they can actually play and complete a baseball season, and even then the league is still at the mercy of COVID-19 containment around the country.
3. Contingency plans
As impressive and thorough as the 67-page (and counting?) safety plan is, something will go awry this season. It is inevitable, and MLB will need to be prepared. What happens if a player tests positive? What if a player tests positive on the road? What if there’s an outbreak in a city and games have to be moved elsewhere? What if tests suddenly become unavailable?
These are all obvious questions that must be answered well ahead of time so action can be taken immediately. Where do we move games that have to be moved? How do we transport the players? Where do they live? How do we contract trace a player who tests positive? MLB has to know these answers before starting the season because those issues could pop up literally on Opening Day.
It will be impossible to develop a contingency plan for everything, but there will need to be a plan in place to come up with a plan, if that makes sense. Does MLB suspend play should something unforeseen happen so they can come up with solution without putting personnel at risk? MLB and the MLBPA have to plan for as much as possible, and even then it won’t be enough.
4. Spring training, regular season, and postseason schedules
When the shutdown was first announced MLB’s master plan was to pick up the season at whatever point in the 2020 schedule play resumed. It was easier to stick with the current schedule than generate a new one because travel plans had been arranged, ballpark availability was locked in, and tickets were sold as well. Picking up the existing schedule simplified the process.
The latest restart proposal calls for a regional schedule, meaning the two East divisions would play only each other, the two Central divisions would play only each other, and the two West divisions would play only each other. Teams would essentially isolate geographically to hopefully avoid spreading COVID-19 across the country. That will require a new schedule.
With a new schedule comes all the logistical issues, like arranging travel and lodging, and in the case of the Toronto Blue Jays, the mandatory 14-day quarantine for all persons entering Canada. The Blue Jays may have to play their home games at their spring training complex in Florida, or maybe at their Triple-A affiliate’s ballpark in Buffalo, which is a two-hour drive from Toronto.
MLB has proposed an expanded 14-team postseason field and, because there is concern about a second COVID-19 wave in the fall, the league does not want to drag things out into November. They want to play as many regular season games and a complete postseason as quickly as possible. The expanded 14-team postseason field will essentially add a new round.
Then there’s spring training. Teams will have the option to train at their major league ballpark in their home city or at their spring training facility. The spring training facility would be ideal because the complexes are large (multiple fields, multiple clubhouses, etc.) with plenty of room for players and personnel to social distance while preparing for the season.
The thing is, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Arizona, and it may be safer for Cactus League teams to train in their home cities. Also, avoiding the Arizona heat in June is an obvious plus. Some teams have reopened their spring training complexes for limited workouts. That works now. It may not when the full squad reports. Spring training will be a massive undertaking.
5. Other logistics
Many players have returned home during the pandemic and last week the Department of Homeland Security issued an order exempting foreign-born athletes from being denied entry into the United States. “In today’s environment, Americans need their sports. It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work,” the order says.
Furthermore, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reports MLB players returning from other countries will not have to quarantine for two weeks as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For all intents and purposes, players can return to the U.S. and rejoin their team right away. There are no immigration or quarantine hoops to jump through, for better or worse.
MLB players returning from other countries is one major logistical issue that is now a non-issue, apparently. There will be countless other logistical problems to solve between now and spring training though. How do teams travel, what do we do about the All-Star Game, so on and so forth. I have two logistical questions that should interest all baseball fans:
Will MLB have broadcast blackouts this year?
Will MLB be flexible with game start times?
People are starved for sports and millions are still isolating at home. I understand there are television contracts and broadcast agreements in place, but is MLB really going to enforce blackouts this year? And are they really going to stack games in prime time rather than spread them out throughout the day? Games at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., and 10 p.m. ET each day sounds amazing.
Should baseball return in early July as the league hopes, it will be the only game in town, and MLB will have an opportunity to give their fans unprecedented access to the sport. No blackouts and games all day, every day is a tremendous way to cultivate new fans (and lure back fans who might be turned away by the public salary squabble). Let’s hope MLB does the fan-friendly thing here.
One other thing I want to mention: MLB will return without fans initially, but fans will eventually be allowed into the park and getting them into the building safely will be a challenge. Letting them out safely will be even more difficult. You can’t have thousands of fans rushing the exits simultaneously during the pandemic. Not a pressing issue, I know, but something that has to be considered.
6. What about minor leaguers?
There is unlikely to be a minor league season this year. Look how difficult it is to plan a season for 30 major league teams. Now imagine trying that for 160 or so minor league teams (that have way less resources than MLB teams). It’s not possible. There won’t be a traditional minor league season this year and teams have already started releasing players as a result.
MLB’s restart plan includes a 50-man roster split into a 30-man active roster and a 20-man taxi squad. That taxi squad is effectively a Triple-A roster where teams can stash potential injury replacements and call-up options. The taxi squad players will remain with the team and work out and practice to stay ready in case they’re needed. That feeder system is important.
Different teams will use the taxi squad differently. Rebuilders could load it up with top prospects to ensure their future core players get some hands-on instruction this year. Contenders focused on winning the World Series could stack their taxi squad with players best able to help them win in 2020. If that’s a journeyman non-roster type over a top prospect in Single-A, so be it.
There are thousands of minor leaguers though and the vast majority will not be on the taxi squad. What happens to them this year? With no actual minor league season, the best case scenario may be holding workouts and intrasquad games at each team’s spring training complex. If all goes well, maybe they could even play games against other nearby teams.
An extended spring training setup may not be possible though, in which case thousands of minor leaguers may be stuck at home all season, losing all that development time. Best case is the shutdown is a one-year bump in the road. Worst case is their skills begin to atrophy and their careers are irreparably damaged. Either option is bad for the future of the game.
My hunch — and this is just a hunch — is MLB and the MLBPA will reach an agreement this week that allows them to start spring training in June and the regular season in July. Manfred’s unilateral ability to cancel the season effectively allows the owners to hold baseball hostage to get further salary reductions from the players, though I don’t think they’d actually cancel the season.
MLB and the MLBPA are not stupid. They act stupid sometimes, sure, but they both understand canceling a season because of an economic dispute at a time when tens of millions are losing their jobs would do incalculable damage to sport long-term, especially if the NBA and NHL are able to resume and complete their seasons safely and without labor strife. Canceling the season because it is unsafe to play during a pandemic would be sad but understandable. Canceling for economic reasons would be unforgivable.
The recent public bickering is discouraging, no doubt, but speaking to others who’ve covered previous labor disputes, this is par for the course. The two sides sabre-rattle for a bit, then get down to business. The difference is that, unlike a typical collective bargaining agreement negotiation, time is in short supply. This has to be wrapped up soon to begin the season on the desired time frame. MLB and the MLB will have to adjust their strategies.
To be sure, getting baseball off the ground this season is the top priority this week. These negotiations will also have long-term consequences because the current CBA is set to expire in Dec. 2021. Any distrust and bad blood that exists now could — and will — linger into next year’s negotiations. It’s not hyperbole to say the future well-being of the league is on the line right now.
After his medical trip, he returned to Manipur after being diagnosed with jaundice once again. He had to take an arduous 2400km road journey back to his home state in an ambulance.
“He has been admitted to a hospital there, adds another battle to the ones he is already fighting. While he was in Delhi till last week, his nurse had tested positive but he himself was negative at the time of leaving,” the source added.
“Perhaps he caught the infection in the ambulance. I don’t know, it could be anything. I guess all those who came in contact with him during his stay in Delhi will also have to quarantine and get tested.”
After winning the Asian Games gold in the 1998 edition in Bangkok, the former bantamweight boxer went on to win the Arjuna award in the same year. He was bestowed the nation’s fourth-highest civilian honour — the Padma Shri — in 2013.
Singh, who inspired the likes of six-time world champion MC Mary Kom, is employed with the Indian Navy and also worked as a coach before ill-health confined him to his home.
Manipur has so far recorded 71 coronavirus cases, out of which 11 have recovered. While the state has not seen any deaths related to the deadly pandemic so far, the national death toll is at 5,164.